Alpine Splendor

 

Autumn leaves blaze in Utah's high country as days shorten and crowds disappear. Immerse yourself in the colors and sounds of quaking aspen adorned in their autumn finery. Steal a glimpse of moose, elk or deer and picnic by Utah's pristine streams and waterfalls.

Utah's mountains aren't to be experienced from afar. Wade into the cool waters and cast your line for brown and rainbow trout in the sparkling Provo River or join a ranger-led tour through delicate crystalline formations defying gravity in Timpanogos Cave.

Trails for boots and mountain bike tires abound, challenging the lungs and legs in cool autumn air. Beauty and adventure await, just around the bend, on fall foliage driving tours in Utah.


Total Driving: 300 miles, about 6 hours  |  Driving per day: 1 to 2.5 hours  |  Most Driving: Day 2 


At a Glance

Day 1

Visual Fire

Start: Wasatch Mountain State Park
See: Aspens in their autumn splendor
Explore: Trails by foot, bike or ATV
Options: Boat at Jordanelle State Park or swim in the warm waters of Homestead Crater
Scenic Routes: Guardsman Pass
Roads: I-80
Miles: 56 miles from Salt Lake City International Airport
Night: The park offers cabins and developed campsites, which can be reserved in advance. Want more pampering? Heber Valley options range from luxury resorts to mountain lodges.

Day 2

Mountain Highs

Start: East of Nephi
See: Red rocks of Devil’s Kitchen, Payson Lakes
Explore: The tallest mountain in the Wasatch Range
Options: Kamas and the Mirror Lake Highway; dinner in Provo
Scenic Routes: Mt. Nebo Scenic Byway
Roads: U.S. 189, I-15 and S.R. 132
Miles: 149

Day 3

Waterfalls and Other Worlds

Start: American Fork Canyon
See: Glorious fall foliage and idyllic Cascade Springs
Explore: Sundance Resort
Option: Timpanogos Cave
Scenic Route: Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
Roads: S.R. 92
Miles: 80

Day 4

Extended Stay

Start: Sunrise hike or on the Provo
See: Even more of this idyllic valley 
Explore: Middle Provo River or Heber Valley Artisan Cheese
Options: Heber Valley Railroad, Hot Air Balloon
Roads: U.S. 189
Miles: 15–20 around town, 45 drive back to Salt Lake

In Detail

Launch your family foliage adventure in Wasatch Mountain State Park, just a short one hour drive from the Salt Lake City International Airport, where winter Olympians triumphed in 2002. Before the snow flies, explore the trails by foot, bike or ATV to see what wows the park naturalist every year as the leaves turn orange, magenta and purple. You're likely to catch glimpses of wild turkeys, moose and elk as they descend to lower elevations with winter approaching. A variety of kid-friendly trails start near the visitor center including some that are stroller-compatible.

In the afternoon, get on the water at Jordanelle State Park. If the air turns cool, head to Homestead Crater where even little kids (in swim diapers!) are welcome in the natural hot springs. Those flexible enough can take a paddleboard yoga class.

The next day travel further south to the 35-mile Mt. Nebo Scenic Byway, renowned for its spectacular fall colors. If the Wasatch Range's tallest peak, the nearly 12,000-foot Mt. Nebo, beckons, prepare for a rigorous more than five-hour climb, or admire it from the many overlooks. A stop at the aptly-named Devil's Kitchen allows you to experience Utah's famous red rock country without traveling further south. If driving the scenic byway is too long, consider heading to the quaint mountain town of Kamas to play in the Uinta Mountains bejeweled with hundreds of lakes and streams.

Another one of the state's most famous autumn drives begins at the mouth of American Fork Canyon. The 24-mile long Alpine Scenic Loop rises 3,000 feet and winds past scenic waterfalls easily accessible near trailheads as well as the pristine Cascade Springs where more than 7 million gallons of water flow through daily. Picnic on site or head back to the Sundance Resort for more elegant fare at one of Robert Redford's restaurants. A visit to Timpanogos Cave will wow the kids in the afternoon, but tickets should be purchased in advance.

If you have an extra day, consider a ride on the Heber Valley Railroad — a three-hour trip through Provo Canyon. Watch fly fishermen and rafters in the Provo River or join them with a professional guide. For early risers, take to the skies in a hot air balloon to enjoy the magnificent Heber Valley. Foodies and kids will love a tour of the local dairy, Heber Valley Artisan Cheese. In late October, Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering (October 29 to November 2) will take you back in time.